Pet Peeve—Smart keys, dumb and dumber

Pet Peeve—Smart keys, dumb and dumber

Consumer Reports News: December 30, 2008 09:16 AM

We’ve complained a lot recently about so-called "smart keys" that actually seem pretty dumb. BMWs and Minis now take multiple steps to start the car. And we’ve had trouble with Volkswagens not releasing the key. We’ve also had an awful time with our new A4—you have to insert a large block of plastic/metal into a slot, hold it there and then wait for the engine to fire. But what’s worse is trying to remove it—you have to very delicately push it all in and then gently remove it. Often, the engine shuts off but you can’t remove the key. Which means you then have to push it back in—which restarts the engine—and begin the whole process over. At best, we often find ourselves searching for an available cup holder or bin to stash the key that would otherwise go in the ignition. Which, of course, doesn’t work since these are not keyless systems.

But my least favorite thing about these dumb smart keys is that the start buttons that go along with them can’t simply turn the engine off when I get home without turning everything else off, too.

Let me explain. My news-radio listening habit is so severe that as a car reviewer, I’m almost uniquely incapable of giving an opinion of the sound quality of a car’s stereo. If I can understand what an anchor is saying, that’s good enough for me. (Radio reception is a different issue.) Consequently, I frequently arrive home and pull into my driveway in the middle of a news item and want to hear how the story ends. (National Public Radio loves to take credit for these “NPR moments” as they beg for pledges every month.)

But the advent of "smart" keys has left me feeling dumb. After I stop in my driveway, I face an ugly choice: turn off the engine and miss the crucial end of a report, or watch precious gas money evaporate out the tailpipe as the engine idles until the report ends.

While most start buttons do have an accessory position, you can only access it from having the car off and hitting "Start" without depressing the brake pedal. You can’t get there in a single step when the car is running.

This month’s Mazda6 was particularly annoying, because it took the radio a full 7 seconds to reboot—complete with a chime—an eternity in a 30-second radio report.

So I usually just leave the engine running, figuring it’s not much different than if I’d hit another red light on my way home. The good news is, as winter sets in at least it keeps me warm. And this is another reason why I’m grateful gas prices have gone back down.

Eric Evarts

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